This article is written by Predictable Success Consultant Alex Thatcher.
When organizations first began the search for a technology-based tool to improve communication in the workplace, I’m pretty sure nobody ever voiced the following list of requirements:
- Must allow for frequent misunderstanding between co-workers;
- Must be difficult to “read between the lines”;
- Should be nearly impractical to use in any situation that is even remotely complicated;
- Would preferably allow employees to take the easy way out in all interpersonal situations;
Yet email has become the ubiquitous organizational communication tool in the workplace, and all of these unsought requirements have surely been met…and then some.
We all know the virtues of email – it is an indispensable communication and productivity tool. And while I’m not sure about the age-old chicken vs. egg debate, I can comment on the lesser-known email vs. people debate: It isn’t email that’s the problem, it’s how people use, overuse, or hide behind email that’s the problem.
But fear not – the bad need not always come with the good. Use these tips to stay technology-sane and cultivate quality relationships with your co-workers.
1. The speed of trust (and mistrust).
Stephen Covey (the son) wrote a book in 2008 called The Speed of Trust. The basic idea is that when trusting relationships are in place, everything happens quickly, effortlessly, happily and effectively. On the other hand, where mistrust exists, everything happens slowly, disjointedly, painfully, and ineffectively.
Ergo, working to improve trust with your co-workers exponentially increases organizational speed and effectiveness. Makes sense. Hence the first rule of email effectiveness: Use email with a given co-worker at a rate commensurate with the level of trust in your relationship.
More trusting relationship = more email. Less trusting relationship = less email. When’s the last time you emailed someone who didn’t trust you and it ended well?
So rather than doing it again, commit to sitting down face-to-face with co-workers with whom you haven’t yet built a trusting relationship.
Especially during the tough Whitewater stage of organizational growth, when new people with different leadership styles are entering the organization, it is critical that you first rely on human interaction and relationship-building when communicating.
2. The what vs. the why.
Complexity and email don’t mix well. To keep the chicken analogies going, email is good for when you simply want to tell your co-worker that the chicken crossed the road; or which road it crossed; or even whether or not it made it across alive.
In other words, the facts – or the what.
But if you want to know why the chicken crossed the road, or the unique circumstances under which the chicken crossed the road… If you want to examine the conflicting versions of the chicken’s vs. other eyewitness accounts of the road-crossing; or have the team plan for a better road-crossing in the future, then email simply isn’t the best. In fact, it’s pretty horrible.
Nobody wants to read a novel-length email. Most people are incapable of effectively summarizing complicated ideas via email, and so much gets lost in translation anyway.
This leads to our second rule of email effectiveness: Use email for the what, but leave the details and nuances of the why for face-to-face discussions, where all parties can openly communicate and be fully understood and appreciated.
Especially when organizations reach the over-processed, somewhat sterile Treadmill stage (the first stage of organizational decline), communications can tend to get fairly mechanical in nature with a pre-defined and logical process effect attached to every possible cause.
When this happens, beware of sending mindless “what” emails back and forth to your co-workers that follow carefully prescribed processes.
Every once in a while, for the good of the enterprise that is in the throes of Treadmill, when you get yet another “what” email, dare to email back “Why? Let’s meet!” Get together for a hearty debate that challenges why you’re doing what you’re doing and whether it still makes sense.
3. Know your style (and others’ styles)
Central to this discussion is the importance of each person knowing his or her own leadership style. Are you a Visionary, an Operator, a Processor, or a Synergist? (If you don’t know, take our free assessment at SynergistQuiz.com.)
Knowing how you like to receive messages (both written and verbal) will help you understand how to more effectively communicate with those other Vs, Os, Ps, and Ss in your organization.
So when using email, before pressing send, ask yourself, “What is my leadership style, what is the recipient’s style, and how will he or she interpret this email the way it’s currently written?”
For example, Processors will be comfortable with more detail, while Visionaries will want high level bullet points. Operators might have too many competing priorities to get to it, and Synergists might prefer a more personal touch.
Further, intra-style (V-on-V, P-on-P, etc.) written and verbal communications will tend to go more smoothly, whereas inter-style communications (i.e. O-on-S) always have more potential for misunderstanding and conflict. So choose when and how to use email wisely to ensure the message you send gets received as intended.
And remember, understanding why different leadership styles think and act the way they do is critical for building a strong, cohesive team that is capable of driving your organization to Predictable Success. So the next time you start to think that email is causing difficulty and dysfunction in your organization, remember that technology is neither for nor against you.
Before assigning blame too quickly, you might take a look at your own reflection in the monitor. Email doesn’t build (or tear down) relationships – people do! Make the choice to first put in the hard work to build relationships, and only then will easy and effective email communication follow.
Want additional email tips? This article and its accompanying tool will increase your email productivity immediately.